Sunday, January 25, 2009

Volunteering at the Ankara Rehabilitation Center

As part of the IB Diploma Programme, our students have to obtain 150 hours of community service, creativity, and action. With her big heart, a Turkish colleague of mine, Kivanç, arranges a variety of community service outings for the kids to choose from, from building libraries at rural impoverished schools to volunteering at local hospitals. This Sunday, I went along with the students to a government-operated rehabilitation center for children, aged 1-9, who have cerebral palsy. The children stay at the hospital with their mothers, as they are poor and it is free, and many of the women's husbands have left them when they gave birth to a disabled child. Our school's weekly visit entails 1-1/2 of playing games with the children that help them develop their motor skills as well as socialize with each other. For a government-aid facility, it was simple yet clean. There was only one nurse on duty, and the mothers sat around knitting and watching as we played with their children. We raised money to buy the educational toys that would help them with their motor skills, playdough being a favorite. I thought I would find the experience terribly depressing and cry, but in fact, the kids were so smiley and happy to be around us that their lack of depression was catching. It was especially warming to see some of my own students in a different light, paired up with a child 1/2 their size, playing games and trying to make the little ones smile. I plan on going back, but first need to work on learning colors, shapes, and animals in Turkish so I can talk more with the kids rather than just smiling when I don't understand them.

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